Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Francis Goring (1755-1842)

The French Castle at Fort Niagara
During the American Revolutionary War, many colonists who remained loyal to the Great Britain fled to other parts of British North America. Loyalist refugees from the Mohawk Valley area of New York, and from the East Branch of the Upper Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, often made their way to Fort Niagara, located at the mouth of the Niagara River. It was here in 1778 that 15-year-old Lucy Secord met 23-year-old Francis Goring.

Lucy Secord was the daughter of Peter Secord, one of three brothers who settled on the East Branch of the Upper Susquehanna River in 1773, but were forced to abandon their farms during the war. The date of Lucy and her family's arrival at Fort Niagara is uncertain. It is known that Peter Secord was a member of Butler's Rangers, a Loyalist Regiment, but was discharged in 1778 because of his age. In 1780, Peter Secord became the first settler west of the Niagara River.

Francis Goring, on the other hand, was born in Westminster, England, and was baptised at St Martin in the Fields on 7 Sep 1755. His father, Abraham Goring, was a bookseller. In 1776, Francis, an indentured apprentice, left England for Quebec, arriving on the 30th of June. He was then unexpectedly sent to Fort Niagara which he reached on the 26th of August. In a letter written soon after his arrival he describes his situation:
There are no pleasures or prospects to direct the mind, being confined by the woods in one side and the water on the other. Our whole place consist of a fort and four houses and about five hundred men, therefore I leave you to judge how agreeable it must be to one who has accustomed to much pleasure.
From 1780 to 1781, Francis was briefly a partner in a trading firm at Fort Niagara. He likely married Lucy Secord during this period.

After the war, Francis received a grant of land on the west side of the Niagara River and took up farming. He tutored the children of his neighbours, and opened the first school house in the district in 1792. He was a land agent for many years, and was secretery to Robert Hamilton, a member of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada. Francis and Lucy raised ten children, however, Lucy sadly died during the Winter of 1801. Francis never remarried.

Francis was a highly literate person, and much of what we know about him comes from his surviving letters and journals. The journals contain records of his accounts, the crops he planted and harvested, the animals he butchered or sold, lists of his students, visits of dignitaries, but very little about his family. The 1792 marriage of Lucy's cousin David Secord is mentioned, as is the funeral of her cousin Peter. Of his own family only the births of his son Arthur and daughter Mary Ann are recorded:
Friday, August 10, 1792—My wife delivered of a Son at about half-past nine in the evening.

May 26, 1794—My wife delivered of a Daughter at about 11 o'clock at night.
The weather is frequently mentioned. A drought in the spring of 1791 resulted in a fire that caused considerable damage:
May 11, 1791—Considerable damage done in this settlement by the woods catching fire. Mrs. Guthrie's House and fence burnt and most of the fence by the river. Peter Secord's fence burnt and many others.

May 12, 1791 - A remarkable dry spring. But one day's rain between the 13th April and 12th May—29 days drought—Mostly hot days and frosty nights.—Rained 24th in the Morning.
Journal entry for Sunday, July 1, 1792
Francis's entry for Sunday, July 1, 1792 is perhaps the oldest surviving description of a tornado in Canada:
A violent hurricane happened this day about 2 & 3 o'clock in the afternoon which began at the little lake at the head of Lake Ontario which drove which such violence towards Fort Erie as left hardly a tree standing for two miles in width. The heaviest part fell among the Short Hills, between the Fifteen and Thirty Mile Creeks. In some places, for near five miles wide, there is not so much as a sapling, but what is torn up by the roots, whole trees carried a considerable distance, some fifty trees a foot and a half thick twisted like a [?] — every house disroofed and many blown down, in some places the hail was as large as a man's fist, in other places there was neither hail or rain. The woods now is rendered impassable 'til roads can be cut through, forty men were three days cutting so as to get out five families and their cattle, the whole way it went was as a whirl wind, the trees falling different ways. There is no appearance by the woods that such a storm has ever happen'd in this country before, what is very remarkable we hear of no lives being lost except those of Cattle.
Francis died in 1842 at the age of 87. He was buried at Homer Cemetery in Niagara Township, however, no grave marker remains.